Opinion |

Palestinians, Not Israeli Settlers, Are Victims of Ethnic Cleansing

If Mr. Netanyahu really wants to know what ethnic cleansing means, he should ask the Palestinian citizens of Israel. 85% of the Palestinians living in what is now Israel were forced out in the 1948 Nakba - just because they weren't Jews.

Ahmed Tibi
Ahmad Tibi
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Palestinian refugee Ali Abu Jabal, 73, in Jenin, West Bank in front of a mural of the holy land. He was 7 years old when he and his parents left their home in Haifa during the 'Nakba.'
Palestinian refugee Ali Abu Jabal, 73, in Jenin, West Bank in front of a mural of the holy land. He was 7 years old when he and his parents left their home in Haifa during the 'Nakba.'Credit: AP
Ahmed Tibi
Ahmad Tibi

Mr. Netanyahu’s recent comparison of Palestinian citizens of Israel with its illegal settlers in Occupied Palestine is not only immoral, but a total departure from rationality, history and Israel’s obligations under international law. He should realize that no matter Israel’s institutionalized system of discrimination, this is our homeland and we are here to stay.

First of all, Palestinian citizens of Israel are not foreign immigrants that came to Israel and applied for visas or citizenship, rather Israel went to them. They are the indigenous population of the country. They lived there way long before the Zionist movement was created. They are those who later survived the Nakba of 1948, where 85% of the Palestinians living in what is now Israel were ethnically cleansed only because they were not Jews. Yes, they can tell Mr. Netanyahu about the meaning of ethnic cleansing on this land.

As a representative of the Palestinian Arab community in Israel, I reject the comparisons stated by Mr. Netanyahu between our existence and the presence of settlers in Occupied Palestine. We are not Israeli settlers, Mr. Netanyahu. Comparing us with the illegality of a foreign occupation only reflects your belief that nobody else other than Jews could call this place homeland. Over 1.5 million Palestinians in Israel will continue to challenge your racist attitude and systematic denial of human rights, including dozens of laws that only target non-Jews in Israel. We will continue with our demands for equal rights in the place that we have inhabited for generations, rather than taking over the land of another people living under a foreign military occupation.

When Mr. Netanyahu uses the term “ethnic cleansing” it is simply tragicomic. It is like the title of one of the most important books of a prominent Palestinian citizen of Israel, Emile Habibi: “The Pessoptimist.” He just made a comedy out of the real meaning of ethnic cleansing. He should simply go around the infamous “Canada Park,” built over the destroyed Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba in the Latrun to know what ethnic cleansing means. Netanyahu should simply look into the records of his own heroes, including Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, to learn about the real meaning of ethnic cleansing policies. I would even recommend Mr. Netanyahu to read “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Dr. Ilan Pappe talking about the total destruction and ethnic cleansing of more than 400 Arab villages in 1948.

The colonization of an occupied territory is a war crime under international law. Illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are not “ancient communities that have been living there for 3,000 years” but illegal colonial structures aimed at systematically denying the Palestinian right to self-determination. They are illegal not because they are Jews but simply because they colonize an occupied territory. Period. Allow me to ask Mr. Netanyahu, did Israel ever ask Palestinians to adopt Israeli settlers as Palestinian citizens? The answer is no. On the contrary, in the context of negotiations, Israel has only used Israeli settlements as an excuse to annex more occupied Palestinian land.

It is time for Mr. Netanyahu and his extremist government to understand reality: No matter how many tweets or videos they issue, no matter his strong support for colonizing the Occupied State of Palestine or his constant racism against his own non-Jewish, Palestinian citizens, he won’t be able to make us feel as strangers in our own homeland. Mr. Netanyahu should memorize the words of the Palestinian poet from Al Birwa, Mahmoud Darwish: “And here I am. I am I. And here is here. I am I. And I am here. Here.” This is the message of over 1.5 million of Palestinian citizens to him and his racist newspeak.

Dr. Tibi is the deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset, representing the Arab Joint List. He is the leader of the Ta’al (the Arab Movement for Change) party

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